In January, a confusingly contradictory spectacle unfolded right before my eyes. As I sat down in the evening to watch the British Broadcasting Corporations news by the hour, upon which, as part of the business reportage highlighting the surprising positive growth rate in the new economies, Nigeria was mentioned. Then, there appeared on the screen a spritely dressed Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, against the background of the snowy splendour of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria was waltzing like an aristocratic peacock about the positive economic indicators, forecasted financial triumphs and the need for more belt-tightening measures, if Nigeria is to hit the 10% economic growth rate threshold from the impressive 7.87% achieved during the previous financial year.
A student in classical history would have understandably identified with the age old adage: Fiddling while Rome burns, which was about Emperor Nero’s frolicking with a violin while his much beloved city got burnt by fire. For the similarity in the event of the earlier weeks with the English idiomatic expression looks genuinely substitutable, a nation shut by a crippling and debilitating industrial strike due to removal of fuel subsidy with Nigerian citizens, in clear departure from African norms and tradition of never ascribing poverty to self, coming out to proclaim their financial wretchedness and clear inability to afford the pauperizing benevolence of a subsidy-free Nigeria.
As I opened my mouth in awe, the television anchorman in the studio announced that a report will follow from the Lagos home front, which was a clip interviewing new singing sensation and latest prodigal maestro Seun Kuti railing and ranting at the government’s inhuman economic policies, and a short discussion with an Okada man, enquiring from him as to whether he could identify with our much trumpeted annual growth rate of 7.87%. Of course, in summation, the reporter simply asked the viewer to make a judgment by himself. However, in order not to be accused of excessive personalization of strictly economic issues by resorting to sheer exploitation of pedestrian personal foibles, in what is essentially a discourse on the fundamental indices of the Nigerian financial economy, it is pertinent to note that in the intricate world of global economics, personal acts, nuances and body language of the policy maker matters.
For during the height of the recent United States of America’s economic successes, which was also at the time of President Bill Clinton’s economic miracle of the middle and late 1990’s, I was opportune to watch a discussion by Lou Dobbs of Cable News Network Money, who was holding a session on the economic implications of the Federal Reserve Chairman’s quarterly briefing. Unfortunately, only a negligible part of the discussion centred on the available figures released, as greater time was spent discussing the visible demeanour, evident confidence, nuance of speech and presentation ability of Chairman Alan Greenspan. One of the discussants, in a single moment of delusive novelty, stated that it is not outwardly unique if the New York Stock Exchange, and indeed any of the major stock, markets loses value points when a mere report about early morning migraine becomes part of the itinerary of the American apex bank chief. After all, the world of capitalist economic exchanges is premised upon speculation and uncertainty as avenue for profit or loss mathematics.
Last week, the Nigerian president aided the Forbes Magazine African financial numero uno Aliko Dangote to unveil the biggest cement factory in Africa south of the Sahara, in Ibese, Ogun state. It was within the confines of the gigantic industrial edifice that the quintessential Kano money man granted an interview to the British Broadcasting Corporation reporter in Nigeria, with the Briton joining the People’s Democratic Party’s perennial largest campaign funds contributor in laundering the image of the project, in terms of essentially positive African reportage. The inquisitive journalist asked about Nigeria’s bedevilling security challenges, in relation to the much needed foreign investment and generation of employment. Dangote’s response was “I am not a politician as if politics was such a dirty trade that contaminates the fundamental essence of its practitioners and the background financial backers.
As part of our generally accepted conversational norms goes the saying: The worst civilian government is better than the best military regime. Unfortunately, the recent release by the National Bureau of Statistics of a national socio-economic survey is threatening to render such a saying into a heresy, because of the data availed by the governmental agency has shown a clear pattern of progressive progression into poverty by majority of Nigerians, despite our evident descent into popular electoral democracy in the immediate past few years. As according to Dr. Yemi Kale, the Statistician General of the Federation, by the year 2004 relative poverty in Nigeria stood at 54.4%, which was nearly the same figure or even less during the long tenure of Nigeria’s military dictators of the 1980’s and 1990’s. However, the percentage of the relatively poor have by the end of last year risen to 72%, which is approximately 120.24 million people. Despite its quiet security mien, Sokoto was acknowledged as the state with the highest poverty rate in Nigeria, with 86% of its inhabitants living below accepted poverty levels, while the much volatile Niger state came up as having the least poverty levels among its general population standing at 42.6%.
The question though is, can there be democracy without economic development, could accountable governance unveil desolate existence, should popular elections be mere events devoid of any relationship with the living conditions of the voting public. The simple truth is that in so far as Nigeria does not exorcise its internal contradictions, which allows for its citizens to become the richest millionaires in Africa, while at the same time, its society is becoming the most desperately poor in the continent, neither economical development nor our political system could be genuinely stable.